The cabinets were chosen to go with the period of the house. The colors are cheery and welcoming.

Updating With The Sommo’s: Part II, The Kitchen

We’re so happy that John and Doris Sommo of Middle Village, New York, have invited us back to see how they’re progressing. You may remember their bathroom remodel

The Sommo kitchen before the remodel in Middle Village, New York.
The Sommo kitchen before the remodel in Middle Village, New York.

. The next big project they’ve tackled is renovating their kitchen and dining room.

The original rooms in their home, a circa 1938, true row house, included a kitchen, basement, living room, two bedrooms and one bathroom. A previous owner built an extension to the back, giving the house a separate dining room.

The rows of Middle Village are more or less uniform which limit changes homeowners should make to the front of their home. Residents seem perfectly happy to comply so one doesn’t see many off-beat alterations to the front. However, building out from the back is a great way to gain more space, which is what was done with the Sommo house. To see such extensions, see our article on Middle Village.

We asked the Sommo’s about their recent renovation.

RowHouse Magazine:
The kitchen remodel was a long time coming. When had the kitchen been previously remodeled?

Doris: We think it was last remodeled in the early seventies. The cabinetry was in a style I remember as “Italian Mediterranean” that was popular in furniture then.

John: A long time ago.

Before the remodel, the kitchen is dark and gloomy.
Before the remodel, the kitchen is dark and gloomy.

RowHouse Magazine:
What are some things that really prompted you to change the kitchen and dining areas?

Doris: The worst thing was the laminated countertop that was blistered and leather textured on the heavily used areas. It was dark brown and mended with duct tape behind the sink where the counter had separated from the backsplash. In the dining room, there was the kind of track lighting that you screw into the ceiling and has a cord trailing along the wall into an outlet. The look was completed with mauve carpeting and vertical blinds. It was time.

John: The old kitchen was ugly.

RowHouse Magazine:
When you did your bathroom, you said that some of your inspiration came from the classic New York bathrooms of the 1920s, with subway tile and a black and white motif. What inspired your design for the kitchen and dining room?

Doris: The house was built around 1939, so we wanted a look that was somewhat traditional. We selected traditional but simple styles for cabinets and hardware. I picked the cabinet knobs because they are shaped like school house lamps from the 40’s. Bead board wood panels frame the refrigerator and the peninsula. There is chair railing around the eating nook. This was Joe’s, our contractor, suggestion. He says you should strive to make a renovation look like it was always a part of the house. He also put old fashioned trim around the door frames.

The lighting is better here but still gloomy and dated.
The lighting is better here but still gloomy and dated.

But the kitchen also had to look like it belonged in New York. So, we have a lot of grays and stainless steel and a commercial style range and hood. The floor is the color of a city sidewalk. And we bought diner-style dishes from Fishes Eddy. The dishes are really plain, but it’s amazing how good food looks on them.

John: I wanted to make my wife happy. Also, the kitchen had to go with the Tiffany style lamp we bought in Philadelphia.

Doris: The walls are yellow to go with the lamp.

RowHouse Magazine:
You continue to create spaces that are neither overwhelmingly feminine nor masculine. Who got to influence what items or was everything chosen with equal respect to personal tastes?

Doris: We really did select everything together. Our tastes are similar, but John likes good strong colors, not beige, while I tend toward soft neutrals (like beige). We made countless trips to numerous tile and stone stores. We brought home samples and lined them up on the floor. We thought our heads would explode with the choices available. We selected black (bold, strong) granite for the counter and tiles in medium gray (neutral) shades for the backsplash. The backsplash was the last thing, and the hardest to get right. But Adrianna from Parma Tile helped get us through. In the end it all came together beautifully.

The cabinets were chosen to go with the period of the house. The colors are cheery and welcoming.
The cabinets were chosen to go with the period of the house. The colors are cheery and welcoming.

The layout of the kitchen and the appliances were immediate agreements. We both love to cook, so we need adequate prep space for two and a really good stove.

John: We are pretty much equal in this respect.

RowHouse Magazine:
These days’ people are looking for ways to creatively save money with their projects. In what areas did you decide to be thrifty and, likewise, in what areas did you decide to splurge?

Doris: We briefly considered just replacing the countertop and re-facing the cabinets. But we love this neighborhood and plan to stay in the house, so went for a kitchen that we would really love. We kept the range and the refrigerator in the same location. The sink was moved a few feet, into the corner. That saved a little bit, but opening up the wall into the dining room added on to the construction costs. It was worth it – the house looks twice as big now. I wanted to make sure we got very high quality range hood and good venting to the outdoors. We are serious cooks, and you don’t want the whole house to smell like garlic.

The granite is also a luxury item, but the stone is really beautiful. We found a slab that looks like black pebbles at the bottom of a stream. The nice thing about having a small kitchen is that sometimes you can spend a little more for something because you don’t need as much of it.

A corner sink maximizes space.
A corner sink maximizes space.

John: We splurged.

RowHouse Magazine:
A really big trend in kitchen and dining room renovation is to break down walls and create an open space rather than have two distinct rooms. In your old layout, the rooms were separated by a wall and relatively small doorway. After the remodel it is just amazing by how much the flow has improved. What things did you consider as you opened your space up?

Doris: The dining room was built as an addition to the house and it looked like an afterthought. It was separated from the kitchen by a narrow 30 inch doorway. I have seen similar houses in this neighborhood where the entire wall between the dining room and kitchen was removed. It looks spacious, but sacrifices too much counter space in the kitchen. When you have a small house you don’t have much wall space to begin with. If you take out too much, you have nothing left to put your cabinets on. As a compromise, the space above counter height is wide open, but the space at counter height and below is only open 34 inches. (See the photo.) So we have cabinets and granite counter running from the kitchen into the dining room, where it is used as a serving area. Visually there is all this open space, but in practical terms, we have an additional 5 foot of counter and cabinets in the passage.

The French door refrigerator completes the optimal work triangle.
The French door refrigerator completes the optimal work triangle.

Our guests love to hang out here. This is also where John carves the turkey and the roast beef. It really brings the dining room into the rest of the house. The floor in the dining room is laid with the same gray tile as the kitchen, so one space flows into the other.

John: I was concerned that the wall might collapse.

RowHouse Magazine:
You got to really give your new kitchen and dining room a proper workout with a full house for Thanksgiving. What is your favorite part about your new kitchen and dining room?

The automatic ice-maker and the extra counter space really come in handy when you have a crowd.

When it’s just the two of us, we have discovered that eating in is more fun than dining out.

More information

Contractor: J&J Custom Interiors, Inc. (New York) – 718.747.0961

Cabinets: KraftMaid from Home Depo Expo

Kitchen Design: Susan McLaughlin from Home Depot Expo

Backsplash: Parma Tile

Floor Tile: Tiles Unlimited

Countertop: Green Ice Granite from Renaissance Marble

Appliances: GE Cafe range and dishwasher. GE Profile

Appliances: Broan range hood

A more open look into the dining room with additional workspace peninsula that ties the two areas together.
A more open look into the dining room with additional works pace peninsula that ties the two areas together.

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